In Their Own Words

Krystal Languell on “Just and Only”

Just and Only

With a hydraulic jack, he lifted the vehicle into position
once I’d finished applying to a new opportunity
I was always catching a glimpse of public urination
on the way to assemble a garden salad with bib lettuce

A man must prove his innocence, very very true
once I’d finished reporting my findings about the market universe
I took a stroll through the car wreck aftermath with loose bricks
a modest rectangle of meatloaf in my trough with a side

Make it a narrative to present your case to the president
once I’d finished racing through the background reading
I lost interest in the group’s description at “a quote I composed”
cleared the fridge of remaining leftovers, moved baguette to freezer

Unfit, I get unsuitable when I’m unprepared and underwhelming
once I’d finished completing the registry and vaccination
some guy was in a coffeeshop photoshopping your nose smaller
I’ll be scarfing my latte, tamping down overwritten meetup bile

From Systems Thinking with Flowers (Fonograf Editions, 2022). All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher.

On “Just and Only”

In the drafting of "Just and Only" I created a formal constraint, as I often do. Here, it's quatrains with the second lines beginning "once I'd finished" and the fourth lines referencing food. The repetition gets at the Sisyphean nature of most work, how projects and deadlines follow each other and before you know it you didn't go to the beach all summer.

It gives me no pleasure to tell you this is my Brett Kavanaugh hearings poem. The president at my former employer was playing the audio in his office with the door wide open, shouting out his reactions for the CFO to respond to. A group of women from another team gathered in a conference room to work quietly in solidarity together. My team was expected to remain in earshot to leap when our names were called, but we were all deeply rattled by the circumstances that day. I expressed my concerns to the CFO and asked her to speak to the president about his disturbing behavior. She refused.

So this is also my workplace dissociation poem; from the pathetic little lunches at the Whole Foods hot bar to the relaxing effect of walking through the scene of a car accident to a willingness to clean out the office fridge for five minutes of alone time, it waves its red flags. Among the coping mechanisms appears some language I couldn't deal with as I was searching to try and make friends outside of work. Even though I was too big of a snob to join any meetups, browsing them in a coffeeshop helpfully reminded me of the continued existence of the world outside my toxic workplace.

Like so many white-collar workers, I quit my job in the Great Resignation. Perhaps our generation is ready to dispense with workplace cultures that no longer serve an ethical purpose. My life has gotten simpler even as the world at large has, of course, not, and in the space formerly occupied by a job that gave me nightmares I have some fertile ground for my imagination again. For me, poetry can be a place to impose order during times of personal chaos. But don't forget to dispel your chaos.

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